Student’s Biochemical Society summer placement in IIB

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Christopher Steel exploring the role of proteoglycans and glycosaminoglycans in aortic aneurysm and dissection funded by Biochemical Society supervised by Hannah Davies and Jill Madine

Aortic aneurysm is a bulge in a section of the aorta. This causes weakening of the aortic wall and increased risk of the blood vessel bursting. A number of biochemical factors can complicate the local environment of an aorta which then has a direct consequence on the mechanical function of the vessel. One factor reported to affect the integrity of the vessel wall is the concentration and distribution of proteoglycans (PGs) and glysaminglycans (GAGs), particularly ‘pooling of PGs’ which may compromise the aorta wall and lead to delamination, aortic aneurysm, and dissection.

In his project Chris investigated the levels of PGs and GAGs in human tissue obtained during aortic surgery at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital using a range of gel-based techniques and dot-blots and employed immuno-staining to investigate the distribution of GAGs within the medial layer of the aorta wall. Data is being correlated with existing data on biomechanical properties and biochemical composition of collagen and elastin, along with clinical characteristics for the same patients to assess whether PG and GAG distribution could be contributing to altered aortic wall integrity in disease. PGs and GAGs could provide a future therapeutic biomarker to predict risk of aortic disease and rupture.

 

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Wellcome Summer Studentship Award

Megan Souness completed a Wellcome Trust funded project with Elliott Stollar this summer titled “The role of electrostatic interactions in SH3 domain structure and function”. Megan was successful in purifying and thermodynamically characterising over 20 SH3 domains. She was also able to study the role salt played on the folding kinetics of the SH3 domain from Abp1p and found that salt affects the folding rate much more than the unfolding rate. Her work will be included in a publication which is hoped to be submitted soon.

Summer in the Dart Lab

Jagjit Binning (now Year 3 Biological Sci) and Mohamed Omar (now Year 3 Biochemistry) joined Caroline Dart’s group for 3 weeks in July to look at the expression and function of a specialized calcium influx pathway (the Orai/STIM system) in human skin cell lines.  This involved aseptic cell culture, SDS PAGE /immunoblot analysis and also learning how to record the tiny electrical currents carried by the movement of calcium ions using patch clamp electrophysiology.  The electrophysiological recordings are technically difficult and time-consuming so well done to Jagjit and Mohamed both managing to seal a microelectrode onto the surface of an individual cell at virtually their first attempt!

Telling tales of multiple Ps – Dr Lydia Cole

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity* to talk, twice, about a topic related (slightly tenuously) to my research and very close to my heart.  On the evening of Wednesday 19th September I stood on the stage at Leaf, facing the Ignite Liverpool crowd, to present on “The Three Ps”; and on Saturday 22nd September I stood on a soapbox in Sheffield’s busy shopping district, to shout about “Peanut butter, palm oil and peat; getting un-stuck in the mud” to a bunch of slightly bemused passers-by.  They were quite different forums with which to share my knowledge and passion, but I learnt a good deal from preparing for and presenting at each.  Here’s a quick low-down of each event, which might hopefully inspire you to get involved in the future.

Ignite Liverpool is the brainchild of a community organisation that runs quarterly events, providing a platform on which anyone can talk for a whistle-stop five minutes about a subject they are passionate about.  The challenge is to convey a coherent story in five minutes, in synchrony with the visuals on your 20 slides which flash up for five seconds in a continuous reel.  I managed to mumble in time to the slides until the penultimate one, where my dialogue turned to dust!  It was a fun experience though, and useful in considering how to design succinct propaganda.  If you’d like to know more about the tale of The Three Ps, you can watch my performance here.  I would recommend giving Ignite a go if you live in Liverpool, or any of the other cities where it’s held (e.g. Sheffield); it’s a great opportunity to practice your public speaking and communication skills on any topic of your choice, in front of a very supportive, slightly tipsy crowd.  The most hilarious talk at the last event was entitled Any Colour you like, where all of the slides where shades of black!

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Reeling off about peat at Ignite Liverpool!

Soapbox Science proved a less well-polished, more chilled-out and slightly chillier event!  The initiative was started eight years ago by two female Biologists, with the goal of creating a public outreach platform on which female scientists could promote their science, whilst simultaneously increasing the profile of women in the STEM sector.

I chose to talk about the same issues on the soapbox as I did on the stage: a narrative around the prolific commodity, palm oil, which links our consumption behaviour in the UK to the draining and deforestation of peat swamp forests in Southeast Asia.  Orang-utans, the people of the forest, were the protagonists, of course.  As part of my PhD research (a few years ago now!), I explored the long-term ecology and contemporary management of the coastal peat swamp forests of Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo, and have since been monitoring their declining condition and the ever-expanding state of industrial oil palm plantations across the region.  Though my Soapbox performance was not as succinct as I’d hoped (more prep required next time to catch the attention of a transient audience), I managed to have an interesting discussion with several members of the general public on topics of environmental sustainability and the RSPO.  The conversation with one chap, as engaged as he was disillusioned, only concluded when we decided that capitalism needed to be scrapped.  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel qualified to propose an alternative solution.

Illustrating the link between peatlands, palm oil and peanut butter

I found both experiences hugely valuable, primarily because I gained some idea of the level of knowledge amongst the general public on some everyday consumer issues.  People were less aware than I’d realised.  To place your science into a ‘real world’ context, to understand how it might fit into the lives of your neighbours, and to learn how you can inspire people to care as you do, I would recommend standing up on as many platforms as you can.

*The opportunity was created by me through signing up to two events without realising they were in the same week!  I questioned my life choices many times when preparing for them into the wee hours of the morning …. though as per usual have no regrets, in retrospect.

Dementia Public Engagement Day

On Wednesday 23rd May, scientists from Team Madine and Team Turnbull went on a mission to educate the public about dementia research as part of dementia awareness week, at the Alzheimer’s Research UK North West public engagement event hosted at the Institute for Dementia (University of Salford). The event was a hive of activity and a cornucopia of fun! Through the media of Lego®, giant KerPlunk!, cells and real brains members of the public were introduced to all things dementia, including how diet can affect your dementia risk, the development of novel inhibitors of dementia-associated proteins and the links between dementia and other diseases.

Kiani Jeacock, James Torpey (Madine group) and Scott Guimond (Turnbull group) showcased the fantastic research happening at the University of Liverpool through informative posters and a ‘Draw for Dementia’ activity. People were invited to draw the first thing that came to mind when they heard the word “dementia”, which resulted in some really interesting and thought-provoking work!

On the day, they also met people who had dementia themselves or who had friends or family with dementia. This was an educational experience for the scientists too, as it highlighted the translational aspect of their work and emphasised the importance of research into these poorly-understood conditions.

Overall it was a well-organised and enlightening day, and events like these are fantastic for both researchers and the general public alike.

Thanks to ARUK and the Institute for Dementia for hosting!

 

Warrington Collegiate Student Work Placement

Louis O’Brien, a student from Warrington Collegiate, sitting their BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in Applied Science, applied to do a work placement in the lab of Natasha Savage.

Louis worked with Natasha for a full week during February 2018. They did a variety of experiments and simulations together:

  • Plasmid Preparation. Bulking up plasmids using bacteria, performing a midi plasmid prep.
  • Cell culture. Growing up 3T3 cells from frozen, ready for plasmid transfection.
  • Time Course Imaging. Bacterial colonies, grown from swabs of Louis’s phone, were put in suspension and filmed under a light microscope to observe their proliferation.Polarity Simulations. Louis ran simulations of cells breaking symmetry. By changing reaction strengths Louis worked out the key molecular components.

    Louis doing bacterial work for time course imaging. Growing 3T3 cells from frozen stocks. DNA extracted using midi plasmid prep.

Farm Urban’s Future Food Challenge – launch Event – Speed Date a Scientist

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150 year 9 pupils from local schools visited the University of Liverpool for one day in
February to take part in the Farm Urban Future Food Challenge Launch Event. During
the launch event students engaged in a number of activities, including speed dating
scientists.
The speed date scientist event was great fun. The scientist sat at a dating table and awaited the students. Students arrived in groups of around 6. During a 5 minute period the scientist introduced themselves and their work, after which the students were free to ask any questions they wished. Questions ranged from, ‘Is being a scientist hard?’ to ‘Do you think there is a god?’ Once a conversation started it could go anywhere from eprogramming humans to the origin of names. The event was great fun for all.

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